Bishop's drunk driving and texting led to bicyclist's death, prosecutor says

Bishop's drunk driving and texting led to bicyclist's death, prosecutor says

Bishop Suffragan Heather Cook of the Episcopal Diocese was drunk and texting when her car collided with Thomas Palermo’s bicycle on the afternoon of Dec. 27, State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby told a packed press conference shortly after 11 a.m. today. 

The press conference, Mosby’s first, was to “promote transparency and confidence in the justice system.” She said she had spoken to Palermo’s family beforehand and explained the process. She said Cook would be charged today in District Court with felony vehicular manslaughter and an array of other crimes involving the alleged drunk driving, texting, and leaving the scene of an accident in which a person was seriously injured or killed.

The case will now go before a grand jury, Mosby said: “I ask for your patience and understanding while we allow justice to run its course.”

Mosby said the police investigation shows that Cook was texting when she swerved and hit Palermo, who had been riding southbound in a marked bike lane on North Roland Road. Palermo’s body hit Cook’s windshield and landed on the road; Cook drove on, Mosby said, past the dying man and to her home, after which she went back to the scene a half-hour later, where a test showed a blood alcohol level of .22, Mosby said.

A warrant will be issued for Cook’s arrest, though Antonio Gioia, chief of the Conviction Integrity Unit, told reporters that Cook will be allowed to surrender. Mosby would not say what her bail recommendation would be, and Gioia said he did not know what Cook’s legal driving status is, although he asserted that she has not been driving since the crash two weeks ago.

A woman who answered the phone at Cook's lawyer's law firm said that Attorney David Irwin was on the phone but read a brief statement from him: “we have not yet received the formal statement of charges,” she said. “But we understand that she has been charged and are currently working out the details of her processing.”

Asked why Cook had not been arrested on the spot after allegedly blowing .22 on the Breathalyzer, which is nearly three times the legal limit of .08 grams per 100 milliliters, Mosby said double jeopardy was a potential concern. Gioia added detail to that after the press conference. “It is not a good idea to file charges in a piecemeal fashion,” he said. “Some lesser included charges could create a situation” where the defendant is convicted and sentenced and then charged with larger related crimes, but can argue in court that he or she already served their sentence.

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